Online search for business names: A long overdue leap from CAC.

For several years, aspiring entrepreneurs, religious bodies and founders of not for profit initiatives were subjected to untold hardships with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), the arm of government saddled with the responsibility of registering businesses in Nigeria. There was no where you could check the availability of the business name you intend to use, even years after many business registering bodies around the world had made it possible to register businesses from the comfort of your room.

I remember my experience as a budding entrepreneur who was also an under graduate at the Olabisi Onabanjo University in Ogun State. I made a couple of trips to the Lagos office of CAC which was then at Elephant House, Ikeja. My hope was to register a business. I tried for months without success. Months eventually went into years. If I got anything out of the process, it was the large CAC file that I purchased for two hundred and fifty naira. Frustrated, I gave up the pursuit temporarily.

The process was rigorous and ‘ignorantly’ clogged. Too many proposed names returned denied for some of the dimmest reasons you can imagine. A few of the rejections came with sensible reasons but still had rigid demands. An example is the intention to register a business and thereafter go into the media industry. Your business name may not be denied but you will not be able to process the registration if you don’t have a certificate to prove your proficiency in the media. Going by the charlatans that have permeated the industry and watered down professionalism, the CAC stand seems good. However, the CAC goofed by accepting only certificates for bodies like the Institute of Public Relations and Council of Advertising Practitioners in Nigeria. No other certificate, including your BSc in communications was acceptable to them.

While I don’t have anything against the professional bodies that seem acceptable to the CAC, it is certainly a robotic way of carrying out an instruction. There are several registered professional media bodies that the CAC needs to recognise and accept certificates from. It is, for me, very sad that a certificate gotten over a period of four years through a more rigorous examination will be turned down for a certificate that you can obtain in less than six months by hook or crook. Again, that’s a faulty process of deciding entrepreneurs to grant access to run a professional business.

There are so many ills with our registering bodies which cannot be exhaustively dealt with here. I overcame the bottle neck of registration by calling in a lawyer. Much later, I discovered that Chartered Secretaries and Accountants could also help businesses register their proposed names. It will interest you to note that even some of these professionals are now frustrated by the process. It is also not business friendly that the frustrations of registering a business are eliminated by some professionals who certainly have a profit margin on the registration cost.

Let me leave the myriad of ills for now and touch on a good development I just noticed. I checked out the website of Corporate Affairs Commission recently at http://www.cav.gov.ng and found that you can now search the availability of business names. That is some good news. I tried it out and also found that you can check the status of businesses already registered and the ones with registration in progress. I entered a couple of names of registered businesses and the portal returned a list of all businesses with similar names. It showed their company registration numbers and also specified the dates their certificates of incorporation were issued.

Going by the speed of the developed world, it may not seem like much to be celebrated. That notwithstanding, ours is teething and should get some applause especially as it comes with some business advantages.

Amongst many others, the advantages of the search option on the CAC portal include:

1. Businesses owners can search names of their existing or new businesses before visiting the CAC office or asking the recognised professionals to help with registration.

2. This will reduce the going back and forth that delays the registration of the business name.

3. Before you do business with another company, you now have a way to check out that company online to see if it is properly registered.

4. Number 3 does not totally eliminate fraud but it helps and saves entrepreneurs or companies generally with background check on their prospective partners.

The disadvantage, for people doing genuine business, without registration is that other companies may now begin to check you out and refuse to do business with you if your company name is not on the search results.

Other expectations from the management of CAC and by extension, the federal government.

1. Upgrade the online platform to not only check availability of business names but to also register businesses from the most basic mobile devices that can access the internet.

2. Reduce the timeline of registering the business. I understand that when Dr. Olusegun Aganga was minister for trade and industry under President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, he proposed a 24 hour timeline but it obviously was not followed through. While that timeline may seem to agrresive, I propose a 48 to 72 hour business registration timeline with certificate already issued, regardless of holidays or weekends.

3. The subtle outsourcing (making registration easier when we use lawyers, accountants and chartered secretaries) should be discouraged. Those who want to continue to use them should be allowed and those who want to handle their registration themselves should have no issues.

4. Filing annual returns by companies with payments made online and having printable receipts is something that is long overdue.

As we continue to seek foreign direct investments in this nation, we must not forget that the big players wooed by the government and having most processes sped up for them are not only the foreign investors. There are several of them who come into the country unceremoniously and don’t have the privilege of climbing the diplomatic scaffolding to see only the finished phase of the building and miss out on the cracks all over the walls in the lower floors. They have a first hand experience of the rot and see the many clogs in the wheel.

Oh Corporate Affairs Commission, thank you for the major leap that I highlighted about but put your house in order regarding the myriad of ills.

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